The Portland Trail Blazers fired Neil Olshey on Sunday, just short of a month after the team launched a probe into allegations that he fostered a toxic, hostile working environment. Olshey’s reign as general manager in Rip City comes to an end after nine seasons, the last eight of which the Blazers have made the playoffs—the longest active streak in basketball.
Olshey’s alleged workplace misconduct is certainly proper justification for his dismissal. An ever-growing and extra vocal contingent of fans and team followers, though, have long believed the Blazers would be best served by making a change at the top of the front office. That sentiment was further cemented over the summer, when Olshey led a controversial search process for Terry Stotts’ replacement that included a sham investigation into a 1997 rape accusation against Chauncey Billups.
Ugly, disheartening and utterly reprehensible as Olshey’s actions outside basketball often were, though, Portland’s string of postseason appearances also artificially inflated the perception of his ability to construct a cohesive, championship-worthy roster. His behavior is what ultimately got Olshey fired, but his arrogant, hard-headed decision-making as a team-builder would’ve also been reason enough.
Here are three moves the Blazers must make after finally parting ways with their embattled general manager.
3. Hire a modern, forward-thinking replacement
Joe Cronin will be the Blazers’ interim general manager in the meantime. pic.twitter.com/XJvUPtFe7i
— Blazers Nation (@BlazersNationCP) December 3, 2021
Portland promoted Joe Cronin to interim GM upon dismissing Olshey. He joined the organization all the way back in 2006 as basketball operations intern, working his way up the flow chart to being named assistant general manager the 2021-22 season.
There’s no indication that Cronin won’t be considered as Olshey’s full-time replacement. But it’s telling that big names like former Boston Celtics honcho Danny Ainge, a Eugene native who graduated from the University of Oregon, and Memphis Grizzlies executive Tayshaun Prince, a former teammate of Billups with the Detroit Pistons, have already been reported as potential successors to lead Portland’s front office. The New York Knicks’ Scott Perry, Chicago Bulls’ Marc Eversley and San Antonio Spurs’ Brent Barry—who interviewed for the Blazers’ coaching vacancy over the offseason—have also been reported as possible hires.
No matter who Jody Allen ultimately chooses to head Portland’s basketball operations, they must do so with a modern, empathetic and forward-thinking approach that stands diametrically opposed to how Olshey conducted himself in the same role. The days of a single executive making autonomous decisions in the NBA are over. The Blazers need a general manager who doesn’t just respect everyone below them in the organizational pecking order, but understands the value of seeking input from colleagues with multiple viewpoints, backgrounds and experiences.
For that reason, the notoriously old-school and cutthroat Ainge seems miscast as as Portland’s next GM, and Cronin’s candidacy could fall by the wayside due to an understandable desire for an outsider’s perspective. Regardless, Olshey’s replacement needs to be everything he wasn’t when it comes to interpersonal dynamics and their overall approach to running an organization.
2. Make trade calls on C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington
The summer came and went without Damian Lillard trying to force a trade from the Blazers, and his critiques of the team’s roster going largely overlooked. Olshey answered Lillard’s calls for personnel upgrades by signing Cody Zeller, Tony Snell and Ben McLemore to minimum contracts and trading another first-round pick for Larry Nance Jr.
Portland’s departed lead executive infamously believed his team’s core wasn’t the problem, and that a few roster tweaks combined with a change at head coach would make the Blazers contenders. Olshey has been proven wrong over the first six weeks of 2021-22, with Portland laboring to an 11-12 record with the same two-way deficiencies that have plagued it for years.
“To me, the big move is blatantly obvious: It’s doing what it takes to go get Ben Simmons by building a significant trade package around CJ McCollum.” —@KevinOConnorNBA#TheVoidNBA pic.twitter.com/RTZFLu9Snf
— RingerNBA (@ringernba) December 3, 2021
Among the reasons why Olshey elected making significant changes last summer was the long-shot specter of them actually making the Blazers better. The season’s early going has laid bare that they can’t be concerned by the unknowns inevitably associated with roster upheaval. Portland isn’t going anywhere as currently constructed, and has a handful of veterans that could fetch quality players and future picks via trade.
CJ McCollum is the Blazers’ biggest domino, but his onerous contract will also be most difficult to move for a positive package in return. Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington are playing on expiring deals, lowering their value even relative to varying levels of disappointing play in 2021-22. Portland’s biggest possible move is no secret. Before even seriously broaching it, though, the front office needs to pick up the phone and make trade calls on three of this team’s incumbent starters.
1. Engage Damian Lillard on his future
Lillard has gone out of his way on multiple occasions since early August to reiterate his commitment to Rip City. His time with USA Basketball at the Tokyo Olympics cemented his desire to win a championship with the Blazers, and he’s invigorated by the prospect of playing the remainder of his prime under Billups. Lillard doesn’t want to go anywhere.
The unfortunate reality for both player and team is that Olshey’s ouster could mark the time for them to revisit their partnership. Portland won’t be winning a title with this core in place, and Lillard has already lamented portions of his dwindling prime being adversely affected by the abdominal injury that has him currently sidelined for at least another week. With the Blazers at yet another crossroads, is Lillard still comfortable with the notion of wasting his increasingly limited time near his peak playing for a non-contender?
Damian Lillard freestyling about fans wanting him to go to a superteam 👀 pic.twitter.com/7rFfqPbS0D
— 2Cool2Blog (@2Cool2BlogTV) October 28, 2021
That’s the question the front office is obligated to ask him. If Lillard answers affirmatively, again doubling down on retiring in Portland, Cronin and company can focus on other moves. Should he see the Blazers’ dire straits as a good opportunity to continue his career elsewhere, though, it’s incumbent on the team to do right by the best player in franchise history, honoring Lillard’s wish to move on by immediately putting him on the trade block.